Tour of California analysis: Bernal in the driver's seat after stage 2 win

San Jose TT now key to overall victory

Stage 2 at the Amgen Tour of California promised a GC shakeout, and it delivered. Egan Bernal (Team Sky) climbed to the top of the general classification as expected. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) lived up to expectations after his runner-up performance last year with second on the stage, and Adam Yates (Micthelton-Scott) proved that he is on his way back from injury at Volta a Catalunya with a third-place result.

A handful of possible contenders saw their GC aspirations evaporate on the slopes of Gibraltar Road, losing more than two minutes to Bernal. Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) lost 2:11, Rob Britton (Rally Cycling) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) each lost 2:25, Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data) lost 2:45, Gavin Mannion (UnitedHealthcare), and Ian Boswell (Katusha-Alpecin) each lost 2:55, TJ Eisenhart (Holowesko-Citadel) lost 2:58 and Neilson Powless (LottoNL-Jumbo) lost 3:39.

While many of the pre-race favourites slipped out of contention, there were also a number of surprises. Antwan Tolhoek (LottoNL-Jumbo) hasn’t raced since February at the Abu Dhabi Tour, yet finished fourth on his seventh race day of the year. UAE Team Emirates had two riders in the top 10, with Kristijan Durasek in sixth and Edward Ravasi in ninth. Trek-Segafredo’s Ruben Guerreiro was 10th.

Tejay van Garderen’s performance on Gibraltar is a little harder to judge. The 2013 Tour of California winner finished eighth, 50 seconds behind Bernal. While it’s not the best scenario, he thinks leaves him in with a chance.

"He said in the bus this morning that if he could keep it within minute, that he was confident in his chances," Brent Bookwalter told Cyclingnews after the stage. “He’ll need a really inspired, really 'on day', and maybe Bernal needs to be a little off. But it’s definitely possible. Tejay’s got good memories of the San Jose area for the TT, and I think he’ll get better in the next few days. We still have stage 3 and stage 6, too, it’s not just all on the TT."

When Van Garderen won the overall classification in 2013, his victory in the San Jose time trial helped cement his advantage. But the course that year had an uphill finish, so it was quite different than Wednesday's 34.7km test.

Standing in Van Garderen’s way, of course, is the fact that Bernal is also a quality rider in the time trial. He’s the reigning Colombian time trial champion, and he won the time trial at the mountain Tour de Romandie last month ahead or Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing).

Team Sky's Egan Bernal points to his sponsor's logo after winning stage 2 of the 2018 Tour of California

Majka has struggled in the time trial previously but he’s focused on the discipline in the off-season and was third in the Vuelta a San Juan time trial in January. Yates is hot and cold in time trials. Both riders were happy with their performances on Gibraltar and hope it bodes well for the rest of the week.

"I kind of knew where I was, but you never know for sure until you get on the climb and you see how everyone else is going,"Yates said. "But I’m pretty happy with how I’m going and we’ll just keep going and see how we do," Yates said.

Majka said top-three on the stage was good for him.

"It’s a good performance," the Pole said. "I hope to have a good time trial, and still we have three more stages hard, so we’ll see."

Tolhoek, now fourth overall at 40 seconds back, also struggles in the time trial, while Durasek has recently improved his race against the clock and finished 15th at the Tour de Romandie 9.9km time trial. Brandon McNulty, the junior time trial world champion in 2016 and the U23 runner-up last year, is currently 13th overall, 1:25 back, and could ride into the top 10 with a good time trial.

Martinez, currently sixth overall at 40 seconds with Tolhoek and Durasek, could be the wildcard in the deck.

“He’s a good time trial rider,” EF Education First-Drapac General Manager Jonathan Vaughters told Cyclingnews.

"In the Colombian national championships he was second to Bernal by like three or four seconds [it was six seconds – ed.]. So he’s a good TT rider, for sure. Dani, for a first-year pro, 21 years old and has an outside shot at the podium, that’s kind of where we are. That was the game we were playing to come in here."

Vaughters also handicapped the other leaders Martinez hopes to pass in the GC.

"Majka’s not that good in the time trial," he said. "Bernal’s good. Yates can be good, so he’ll be in there. Tejay will ride a good time trial, for sure."

For his own part, Bernal said he wasn’t sure if the margin he gained on Gibraltar Road will be able to hold off the challenges in San Jose.

"I’m not sure because I haven’t seen the results yet," he said in the post-stage press conference.

"But the time trial will be long, so I’m not sure I can lose this time in the time trial or not. I’m not sure. I’m happy because I won today, and tomorrow we will try to keep the jersey, and then we will see for the time trial."

Tejey van Garderen (BMC Racing)

Beyond the time trial, Tuesday’s stage to Laguna Seca Raceway doesn’t look like a GC stage and will more than likely end up in a sprint from a reduced bunch. The stage has a lumpy profile with some short and steep climbs near the finish, but the route looks more like one for Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who won there in 2016 ahead of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing).

Stages 5 and 7 will be days for the pure sprinters, while stage 6 is the next road stage that is likely to turn into a GC battle. The 196.5km route form Folsom to South Lake Tahoe features six categorised climbs at altitude before the final category three ascent to the finish. On their way there, the riders will tackle a category 3, three category 2 and two category 1 climbs.

The rider who emerges from that Tahoe stage in yellow will likely wear it on the final podium the next day in Sacramento. 

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